Thursday, 17 August 2017

Waking Gods

Finished August 13
Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the second book in the series that started with Sleeping Gods. The novel opens with the appearance of a second giant robot, this one appearing out of thin air in the middle of a park in London, England. There is debate about how to handle it while the powers that control the first robot, dubbed Themis, work to transport it to England.
The powers that want to approach the robot with a show of force win out, and things do not go well. The robot has powers to shield itself from harm and the resulting reciprocative attack by the robot is a deadly one. By the time Themis gets there, they know what they are up against, but aren't sure at first what to do. An idea by the pilots works, and things calm down.
Back at the base, when Themis suddenly disappears with Vincent inside, no one is sure what to think. When more robots begin to appear at cities around the world, things begin to look very dark for humankind, and a new weapon is brought to bear by one of the robots, resulting in more questions.
This book takes us further into the ideas debated in the first novel, with the mysterious consultant appearing to give encouragement to the Earth Defense Corps leaders.
But the ending, now that will have you on the edge of your chair, and eager for the next book.

The Stockholm Octavo

Finished August 12
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

This historical novel is set in the 1790s in Stockholm, Sweden. The narrator is Emil Larsson, a young man, who has worked hard to raise himself to the level of a secretaire in the government. His position is in the Customs and Excise office, and he has a sideline in reselling confiscated goods. He has come to his position through hard work, and hard play, teaching himself to be a skilled card player, and betting wisely, gaining the money to buy his position.
Now his Superior has decided that all the secretaires should be married, and Emil is one of the few who has no wife or fiance. Emil's favourite place to go to play cards is the house of Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, an older widow, who both runs a gaming parlour, and is a fortune-teller. She doesn't always use cards in her prognostications, but fairly often. When Emil is next at her house playing cards, she approaches him, and says she's had a vision for him concerning love and connection. She would like to lay an octavo for him, but first she must explain the rules around it. The cards serve as a guide to realizing the vision. Eight nights in a row she will lay cards until a card makes itself known as one of the Octavo. Laying the cards helps to identify who the people are in each role, and can then make it possible to manipulate them so the vision goes in the direction the seeker wishes. The seeker, in this case Emil, must swear an oath to complete the laying. Then he must work to identify who the people are in each role. The roles are: The Companion; The Prisoner; The Teacher; The Courier; The Trickster; The Magpie; The Prize; and The Key.
Along with this plot line, there is also one of royal intrigue. The King, Gustav has recently changed the law to give commoners rights and privileges previously reserved for the nobility. This has caused some of the nobility to rebel by refusing to sign the law, and be imprisoned for that rebellion. The group refers to themselves as the Patriots. Once released, they take their rebellion less openly, and choose the king's younger brother, Duke Karl as their leader. Duke Karl is a weak man, easily influenced by the flattering idea of becoming king. One woman in particular, the widow of one of the rebels, is determined to see the plot through. Her name is the Uzanne, and she has power beyond most women.
Another big theme to this novel is the use of the folding fan. A recent addition to the town's merchants is a skilled fanmaker, Christian Norden. He studied fanmaking in France and married a French woman, but with the growing unrest in France, they came to Christian's home country to make a new start. The Uzanne is a big collector of fans and uses them to get what she wants, whether it be a man or something else. She has some lovely and special fans in her collection and one of them plays a large role in this novel.
There is a lot going on here, and as Emil gradually identifies the people who have roles in his Octavo, we also see the plots developing. Some things, I could guess at ahead of time, but others took me by surprise. A very different and interesting novel.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead

Finished August 11
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories by Chanelle Benz

The stories in this collection are from the past and the present, from America and Europe, from male and female narrators. The range of Benz is quite wide and she displays it well here.
West of the Known is a story of the Wild West, of an outlaw brother come to free his young sister from a difficult life, but things don't always turn out how the characters expect, and this one has some interesting twists and turns.
Adela is a story within a story. It is written as an anonymous tale from the early 1800s, with plenty of footnotes to explain the story's origins. A tale of a woman whose settled life is unsettled by two young boys, eager for an adventure and romance. This is a story that raises questions. Why did she tell them her secrets? one wonders. A story filled with regrets.
Accidental is a story set in the modern day, a tale of a woman whose lives a difficult life. Her parents split up young and she lived mostly with her mother. Now, her mother is dying and she's trying to fulfil one of her last wishes. Her trip takes her back to the past in other ways, uniting her with not only her father, but other men from her past as well.
The Diplomat's Daughter is a tale of a woman who grew up as the daughter of an American diplomat, but who found herself living a different life after a military attack on a refugee camp she was volunteering at.
The Peculiar Narrative of the Remarkable Particulars in the Life of Orrinda Thomas is another story within a story. Presented as a memoir published in London in 1840 by an American slave woman, it tells the tale of a woman rescued from slavery to become a literary star and poet in her own right, who finds that her life is not what she thought.
James III has a twelve-year-old boy finding life difficult with his mother, step-father, and half-brother. As we meet him, he is on the run, beaten, bleeding and shoeless, when befriended by a young black man at the train platform. Overwhelmed by his situation, the boy looks to extended family and his new acquaintance to move forward with his life.
Snake Doctors is a story of a man who learns of his grandfather's death, not realizing that he'd been still alive. A letter of confession his grandfather left leaves more questions than it answers, sending him on a search for the truth.
The Mourners is another story more historical. As the story begins, a man is dying, and his wife is tending to him, trying to do the best she can by him. She is not the woman his family would have picked for him, and the marriage has brought children, but also had children taken from it. Some months after his death, the woman's father asks for her to come to him urgently, and she finds that her father is once again trying to use her to his own ends. A story with a surprising ending.
Recognition bring a young man historian to an archeological site of the end of a failed community. He has written much theory about this community, and now finds himself asked to comment on the findings there. But a woman who may or may not be someone he knows has her own agenda.
That We May Be All One Sheepefolde is a story from the sixteenth century narrated by a young monk, taken into the order as an orphan and finding a home there. As Henry VIII dismantles the monasteries and takes their lands and possessions for himself, the narrator finds his life uprooted and his loyalties torn.
These are all stories with interesting plots and characters, ones that surprise but also feel like one should have known they were coming. Very good writing.

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

Finished August 7
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper

This novel begins with Rose Martin watching her young daughter Antoinette sleeping. She loves her deeply, but worries over her. We get the sense that something isn't right with the child. We next see ten-year-old Antoinette on her own, leaving the farmhouse to go out to the field of flowers beyond. We see that she responds to nature, but has difficulty moving, and is unable to talk. They live at the home that Rose and her sister Lily grew up on, at a farm near a small town called Redbud, in central Kentucky, near Lexington. The farm is a commercial flower farm.
Rose's sister Lily lives a couple of hours away in Covington, Kentucky, the north end of the state. She works for an insurance company there. Not far, but she hasn't talked to her sister in years, Not since shortly after their parents died, and Rose asked Lily to stay at the farm and help. Lily felt then that staying was a challenge that she wasn't up to, and Rose resented her for that decision. Both women have wanted to reach out many times since then, but neither has the courage.
So when Lily gets a call from Rose, once again asking her to come home, and tells her of her own failing health, Lily goes. She is still wary, afraid of the way she begins to act when she is around her young niece. She is very surprised to find that their neighbor, Seth, a man that Lily once thought she had a future with, is back in Redbud and working at the farm. Lily never really got over Seth, and thus the homecoming is even more emotional that she guessed. As she gets to know Antoinette, she finds that she can relate to the young girl, but when she discovers that Antoinette has healing powers of some sort, she is upset that neither her sister nor Seth has told her. As she learns more, she understands the situation better, and begins to find her place again there.
Lily's neighbor from Covington, Will, a young doctor who is a good friend, has followed Lily south, and shows up unexpectedly. Will has strong feelings for Lily, but also is a sensitive and observant man, and he begins to notice Antoinette's abilities fairly quickly. He also notices something else about them that no one else has, something that makes a big difference.
This is a story of love, of families, of how it feels to be "different," of the sacrifices that people will make for love. It is a story of a woman who comes to accept herself as she is, rather than fighting against her impulses. A story of two sisters who care deeply for each other.

Winter Child

Finished August 6
Winter Child by Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

This poetic novel takes us through the life of a man from his birth, all from the viewpoint of his mother. His was a difficult birth, and he nearly died. Again and again over the years, many events come close to ending his life, but manages to survive.
His mother has felt from the first that he would be her weakness, her worry, the one she had to always watch out for. Not that he has lived his life that way. He has taken many risks, and laughed at the dangers, but for her it is a lifetime of waiting for what she knows is coming for him. We see how they change over time and he gets older and more independent, living a life away from her.
The memories of the man's life and the mother's own life are told sometimes from her, and sometimes as if watching it from outside. They don't come in order, but are jumbled and come at random, one from the present, one from years before.
The language here is wonderful, evocative of the emotions of the characters. I always love novels written by poets as the writing always flows so nicely, and the descriptions make things come to life.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Blacksmith

Finished August 6
The Blacksmith by Jenny Maxwell

This was a reread of a book I read a couple decades ago. It really stuck in my mind then, and I decided to do an interlibrary loan of it to refresh my memory. It's the first in a series, and features a girl turning into a woman. Ann is the younger of two sisters, raised by a single mom. She is constantly being made to feel a disappointment to her mother for not being feminine, graceful, and pretty, all things her older sister, Glory, definitely is. Despite this, the sisters are close and supportive of each other.
Luckily her absent father's brother Henry and his wife have taken an interest in Ann, and she spends a lot of time at their home in the country, especially with his uncle at his blacksmith shop. As a teen, her mother limited her time there, but she is elated to find that her uncle has left her the property including the house and the shop in his will, ensuring that she will not be coerced into selling it.
Ann is able to get a base education in metalwork and an apprenticeship in blacksmithing, renting out the property until she is able to take on the job of a smith herself. She is a tall, strong woman, ideal physically for this job.
One of the inclusions in her property is an old right of way through the neighbouring estate, allowing her to ride a horse through whenever she wants, and her father's other brother, John, a lawyer, makes sure she uses this right from the beginning of her use of the property, so as not to lose it. With the property vacant, this is no issue, but soon the property is sold and a group called the Children of God moves in. They try to limit her access, but Ann keeps insisting on her rights, and gaining them back. Their attitude and secrecy however mean that they do not give up easily, and Ann is soon questioning just how far they will go to keep her off their land.
This is a book of a woman who lacks confidence in many areas of her life, but has one thing, her profession, that she knows she is good at. She works on her own terms and this gives her the strength to do what she needs to do to stand her ground. It has suspense, great characters, and a good plot line. I enjoyed this read just as much as my first.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Firing Lines

Finished August 4
Firing Lines: Three Canadian Women Write the First World War by Debbie Marshall

This book looks at three female Canadian journalists that covered WWI on the ground in France. The book is organized into three parts. Part one gives us background on each woman individually, their history, and how they ended up reporting on the war. The second part covers the war more or less chronologically, with the women's reports intermingled in each topical chapter. The third part looks at each woman's life individually after the war. They weren't the only female reporters during the war, but they each came from a different background, with a different outlook about what was happening, and they supported each other professionally.
Beatrice Nasmyth was the youngest of the women, twenty-nine as she went to Europe in 1914. She was a strong believer in women's rights, particularly of the right to vote.  Her cousins, Arthur and Clifford Sifton were active politicians in Canada both federally and provincially and supporters of women's rights. She was a charter member of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Women's Press Club and a friend of the poet Pauline Johnson. She was based in London during the war, but told a variety of stories that grew her own views on Canadian identity, making her reassess some of her earlier actions against immigrants of other races.
Mary McLeod Moore was in her early forties as the war began, with more than a decade of journalism experience behind her, already based in London. She'd been writing occasionally for Saturday Night Magazine since 1910, beginning a regular column for them in 1912 called London Letters. Her father was a military officer, and she had been given a strong education. With her journalist reputation strong, she was in a good place and position to report on the events of the war.
Elizabeth Montizambert was thirty-nine and living in Paris before the war began, and that gave her an advantage over others. Elizabeth was born into a wealthy family of self-made entrepreneurs, leaders of New France, and professionals. University-educated, well-travelled, with many friends who were artists and writers, Elizabeth had begun writing for the Montreal Gazette in 1912 covering Paris art, culture, society, and fashion. As the war begun, her columns made the transition to life in a city facing the challenges of war.
Seeing the reports from the women's own experiences and their interviews with those closer to the action was fascinating, These were women eager to let others know what was really going on, sometimes sending their stories through private hands in order to avoid the military censors. Their unique angle on the experiences of war, in London, Paris, and nearer the front lines awakened their readers back home to the reality of what was happening.
This is an important book in our country's history, showing Canadian women's take on the events in the war that gave Canada an identity outside of a British colony.

Battleborn

Finished August 3
Battleborn: Stories by Claire Vaye Watkins

This collection of short stories takes place mostly in Nevada, and covers time periods from the Gold Rush to the present. We see very personal tales of love, loss, and the quest for a dream. The stories give a real sense of the setting, whether it be desert, the scramble of the frontier, or the urban life of bar hopping. Watkins takes us inside her characters' heads, giving a real sense of the feelings that develop and motivate them.
These aren't happy stories, they're just stories of life, as her characters struggle to stay alive and maintain some control over their future.

The Unfree French

Finished August 3
The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation by Richard Vinen

This heavily researched book looks at the lives of the people who lived in occupied France during the Second World War. The book is organized roughly in the order in which things happen, with the first chapter about the summer of 1940 and the last chapter about the liberation. There are also some experiences grouped by type here. Chapters are given over to the prisoners of war, the French who were in Germany, women, Jews, and the youth forced to work for the Germans.
While there were descriptions of individuals here, they were not gone into in depth, and I found the book gave a very good accounting of what was going on with different groups, and at different times, and in different areas, but this is not a piece of narrative nonfiction, giving us a connection to the people that lived under German control, which is what I was hoping for when I bought this book.
I learned a lot and I found the book very informative, but a tad dry. It was more academic than I expected.

Road Signs That Say West

Finished August 1
Road Signs That Say West by Sylvia Gunnery

This teen novel has three sisters at the center. The oldest is Hanna. Hanna started university, but quit part way through her first year, and went to Europe to work as a nanny. That didn't work out well for her, and she is home now. The girls are supposed to be looking after the house while their parents travel in Europe. But Hanna has the brilliant idea to do a road trip together while they have the chance, all the way from their home in Nova Scotia to Vancouver.
The youngest sister Claire is game right away. She's been having a hard time since a close friend of hers committed suicide earlier in the year. She's always been game for whatever Hanna wants to do. The middle sister, Megan, takes more convincing. She has a summer job lined up, and needs to keep up her swimming practice to stay competitive.
As the girls journey across the country, they encounter other young people, some they like, others they don't. They get invited to a wedding and find themselves offering to help paint a house. They have fights, and get scared. They get hurt, and share secrets and fears.
This is a tale of sisters, with all the messiness that relationship brings. A tale of love despite differences, as they all prepare for what the future may bring them.

Welcome to Gamla Stan!

Finished July 31
Welcome to Gamla Stan! by Michal Hudak

I picked up this book in Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm. A book for children grade 3 or 4 and up, it gives the history of this part of the city. The guide to the history is a seagull named Holmer, Stock Holmer, and he has something special to add in commentary in every part of this history.
There are also activities from coloring some of the pictures here to identifying some of the doors pictured, for those who are reading locally, or maybe checking it out through Google Maps Streetview.
Gamla Stan is a set of four islands at the heart of the city of Stockholm, with a rich and vibrant history, and this book gives facts, stories, and exciting details that will intrigue the reader. With lots of pictures, drawing, songs, legends, and a few quizzes, this is a book to go back to again and again.

Malagash

Finished July 29
Malagash by Joey Comeau

I loved this book. It's short but intense and entirely captivating.
The story takes place in Malagash, Nova Scotia, a small town where Sunday's father has chosen to come back to to spend his final days. Sunday is a young teen, an avid computer programmer, and she has decided to record as much as she can of her father's last words and put them in a computer virus that will make him live forever. Sunday's dad is dying of cancer, something she fights against, her mother tries to protect her and her younger brother Simon from, and yet something her father is determined to face openly. Everytime they visit him in the hospital, they part with the words "goodbye forever" on both sides, a cheerful way to indicate that at some point the words will be true.
The writing here is superb, and so many of them rang true for me. When Sunday talks about her dad, she says at one point "His face is very serious, which is one of the ways my father smiles" and I knew exactly what she meant. Her dad teases her with metaphors about how the end will come for him, but life will go on, saying "a leaf will fall," "a weight will lift," "snow will blanket the town." He loves sly humor, asking "How come the cat never comes to visit? Is she mad at me?"
Sunday is desperate for his words and begins to leave her phone when she leaves him, so she records his interactions with Simon, with her mother, with her uncles.
Simon is also an interesting character, referred to affectionately in the family as "the waif." Sunday begins to spend more time with him, sharing comfort and interests, and finding he has insights that had escaped her.
The other family members have wonderful ways of speaking as well. Her grandmother says "I always feel young. I stopped feeling old a long time ago," when talking about her own past. Sunday's mother tries to draw her back into the family activities, saying "Your grandmother has the most badass spoon collection you've ever seen. She's got a whole ros of spoons from old mental hospitals. She has a spoon from the Amityville Horror House."
The book is touching, sad, funny, poignant, and oh, so worth reading.

The Lost Sisterhood

Finished July 27
The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

This novel alternates between two time periods. The earliest one is around 1250 B.C., in the Late Bronze Age, where the story begins with a young woman Myrina and her younger sister Lilli. The two girls return from a successful hunting trip to find their village changed forever. They must find a new home, and Myrina relies on stories from her mother Talla to lead them back to the Temple of the Moon Goddess where she hopes they will be taken in. It is a long trip with many challenges, not least is the reception at the Temple itself. But this is just the beginning of a longer journey, one measured in years, and taking the two woman and their companions across the Mediterranean to new lives.
In the present day, Diana Morgan is a sessional instructor at Oxford, a philologist and an expert in Greek mythology. When Diana was a young child, her father's mother, her Granny, came to live with them, and she became the recipient of Granny's stories. Despite being told that her Granny had mental health issues, Diana believed in the stories of the Amazons that Granny told, and of Granny's life as Kara, one of them. When a man she's never met before, Ludwig, approaches her to assist at a dig, she is surprised and wary. Despite the warnings of her mentor Katherine Kent, and her colleague James Moselane, Diana meets Ludwig at the airport and finds herself at a dig in the middle of the Tunisian desert. What she finds there makes this a personal quest for her.
Instead of going home, she goes on to Knossos to meet her best friend Bex who is on a dig there and has found something she thinks Diana will be interested in, and Diana finds herself running toward the answers to her questions about her grandmother, away from her professorial duties, and staying a step ahead of at least one group of people determined to stop at nothing to keep her from finding answers. Her journey takes her from England to Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Germany, and Finland.
This is a story of the origins of the Amazons, one that is very believable. This is also a story of women across the ages fighting for the right to live their own lives, on their own terms.
It brings Greek mythology and classic tales alive from Mycenae, Thracia, Ephesos, Troy, and Crete. We see the characters Otrera, Hippolyta, and Paris brought to life.
A engaging quest of a novel.

Hunting Houses

Finished July 23
Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

This novel is set in Montreal with Tessa working as a real estate agent. Tessa loves her husband, Jim, and their three young sons: Philemon, Boris, and Oscar, but finds herself looking for more in her life. When an old boyfriend, Francis, comes into her life through a listing she's taken on, she finds herself tempted to meet him again. Back when they were in a relationship, he was 30 to her 19, and it didn't end well.
As Tessa goes about her life, spending time with friends and family, ferrying her boys to activities, we see her marriage from the inside and see how the "what ifs" of past relationships can live on. This is a story of ordinary life, and how our past is always a part of us.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Place of Shining Light

Finished July 21
The Place of Shining Light by Nazneen Skeikh

This book has suspense, romance, and spiritual enlightenment.
There are several related storylines that the reader follows here. One of them is that of Khalid, a Pakistan antiquities dealer, who steals to order, makes very good fakes, and engages in illegal import and export of art. His wife Sofia loves him very much, but is happy with a simple life, and still cooks all the meals for the household, even when he has numerous guests. Khalid has two sons, one of whom, Hamza, lives overseas and works for the family business from there. The other Hassan, is the apple of Sofia's eye, but a disappointment to Khalid who finds him a playboy who is always asking for financial handouts. Khalid relies on his nephew Faisal as his closest confidante in all business matters.
Adeel is an ex-military officer who has been hired by Khalid to steal a Buddhist statue from Bamiyan (the place of shining light). Adeel is a reliable young man, very close to his mother, who has done work like this before. This time however, the statue causes him to have a spiritual awakening, affecting him in a way he has never felt before. He wants to keep the statue for himself.
Ghalid is a wealthy land-owner, a wannabe politician, with a predilection for young boys and girls, preying on the people of his own village. He is not well-liked locally, partly due to his predation, and partly due to the lack of help he has given the locals over time.
As Khalid tries to track Adeel and the statue when they go missing, he engages both his military contacts that recommended Adeel, and a more criminal element that may have connections to the Taliban.
Adeel is resourceful and has many skills, but when he finds himself joined by a young woman who is looking for a new life, he finds both himself both exasperated and attracted.
An engaging novel with a lot of interesting characters.

Hope Has Two Daughters

Finished July 18
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh, translated from French by Fred A. Reed

This author is the wife of Maher Arar, a Canadian man imprisoned, tortured, and cleared of terrorism charges. Monia was thrust into the limelight during her fight for her husband and his rights.
This novel takes place in two time periods: 1984, and 2010-2011, both periods of revolution in Tunisia. In 1984 Nadia is in her final year in the lycee when a short-lived revolution takes place. Nadia has been exposed to a wide variety of books and thinking through her father's extensive library, and finds her actions lead to her suspension from school. She begins studying English at the American Cultural Center where she meets a young Canadian man, Alex, who is adding technology to the school's library. Nadia's best friend Neila has been dating a young man Mounir, who is from the disadvantaged part of town, Ettadamoun Township, and has been studying to be a lawyer. Mounir is implicated in the uprising and sentenced to 7 years in prison. Nadia finds that her future in Tunisia is limited due to her actions, and believes moving to Canada as Alex urges her to do is a wise move despite her parents' feelings.
In the more recent time period, Nadia's daughter Lila is visiting Tunisia for the summer to improve her Arabic. She is staying with her mother's old friend Neila and her husband, but finds the school boring and not offering the learning she expected. When she is unexpectedly befriended by a neighbour woman her own age, she finds herself drawn into a new group of friends, young people who come from both the wealthy neighbourhood and Ettadamoun Township, and who believe the time is ripe for a new kind of society, beginning with the revolution dubbed the Arab Spring.
As both mother and daughter go through their own enlightenment during each revolution, they also find the Arab Spring bringing them together not only with each other, but with family and friends.
A very useful glossary to terminology is supplied at the back of the book.

Happiness for Beginners

Finished July 16
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Helen Carpenters is 32. She's been divorced for a year from her immature husband Mike. She's trying to figure out how to give herself a kickstart to a new beginning, and decided to sign up for a wilderness survival course that her younger brother Duncan mentioned. When she gets to Duncan's to drop off her dog, she finds that he has forgotten entirely (typical for him) and she must take the dog to her vet to board. She also finds that Duncan's long-time best friend James is also going to the course and is expecting to drive out to Wyoming with her.
Helen is disgruntled by all these surprises, especially as she was looking forward to some solo driving time to belt out the tunes, and a good visit with her grandmother, who brought up her and Duncan in Evanston, along the way. She gets more surprises along the way, from James, from her beloved Grandma Gigi, and from the company, BCSC, who is running the course.
Helen finds the group taking the course mostly consists of university students: guys wanting a near death experience to fuel their adrenaline, and sorority girls wanting to tone their bodies. She ends up befriending a young woman named Windy, beautiful and nice, and a good listener. The challenges of the trek are daunting to many: no soap, no washing, no deodorant, no toilet paper, sleeping under tarps rather than in tents, and only one book each. But Helen welcomes these, reading the company's guide as her book, and relying on the advice in Chuck Norris jokes she has grown to know from her boss at work. She also learns that she must deal with all the issues of her past to move forward.
This is a story of learning one's strengths, working as a team, and recognizing that we sometimes need help in recognizing love when it comes along.

A Greyhound of a Girl

Finished July 14
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle never fails to grip me with his stories. Here Mary O'Hara, twelve years old, is doubly unhappy. Her best friend, Ava, moved to another part of Dublin and the two girls won't see each other daily as they were used to. And Mary's grandmother, Emer, who she is close to, is in hospital dying. As Mary walks home from the school bus, past the group of chestnut trees near her home, a woman she's never seen before appears among the trees and speaks to her. At first, Mary thinks that it is an older woman, but as she gets closer, she realizes that the woman is just wearing old-fashioned clothing. The woman knows who Mary is, and gives her a message for her grandmother. She says "Tell your granny, it'll all be grand."
Mary lives with her parents and two older brothers. Her mother, Scarlett, talks in exclamation marks most of the time, something that Mary lets her know frankly. Mary's brother's are lumbering, exuberant, and shy with woman. They are Dominic, 14 and Kevin, 16, but seem to Mary to have become a different species lately, going by the nicknames Dommo and Killer. After a snack, Mary and Scarlett head off to the hospital to visit granny.
When Mary meets the strange woman the next afternoon, she has to admit that she forgot to pass on the message, and the woman, identifying herself as Tansy, makes herself known to Mary's mother as well. As they both become aware that Tansy is the ghost of Emer's own mother, who died when Emer was very young, they together commit to a road trip to the past of the four generations of women.
This is a tale of love, and comfort, with many touches of humour. We see Tansy and Emer's lives in more detail as we go back in the past.
The book copy I got described itself for all ages from nine up, and I totally agree with that. A keeper.

The Garden of Small Beginnings

Finished July 13
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Lilian Girvan is a single mom, widowed suddenly three years earlier when her husband Dan was killed in a car accident near home. She's always been close to her sister Rachel, but when she collapsed in mourning following the accident, Rachel stepped in to support her and look after Lilian's two young daughters. Now, Annabel is 7 and Clare is 5. Lilian works as an illustrator for a small textbook publisher, Poplar Press. She also has a lovable dog named Frank and a long-time babysitter named Leah. Rachel works for an art importer, and plays the field.
Lilian has recently been asked to take on the illustration job for a book on vegetables by the Bloom Company, which sells flowers and seeds. One of the corporate owners is running a free gardening course on Sundays over six weeks at the local botanical gardens, and Lilian's boss wants her to go. While children are allowed, Lilian asks Rachel to look after the girls, but Rachel thinks it is a better idea to come along.
The group taking the course is small, consisting of two retired teachers, Francis and Eloise; a retired banker, Gene; a young man who seems into nature, Mike; and a single mom Angie, who brings along her 5-year-old son Bash after the first week. The teacher is also young, part of the Dutch family who owns the company, Edward. There is also an assistant, who helps with a lot of the physical work and garden preparation, Bob, whom the women immediately dub "impossibly handsome."
The dynamic between these characters make up the substance of the book as when Lilian asks Edward for advice improving her own garden, the group takes turns going to each member's home after their weekly class and doing a project on each garden.
Each chapter starts with helpful gardening advice, and there is lots of humour in the plot.
A feel-good novel about the power of nature and friendship to heal.

The Last Wave

Finished July 12
The Last Wave by Gillian Best

This novel moves around in time from 1947 to the present. Martha is at the core of the story, which includes her husband John, her children Iain and Harriet, Harriet's partner Iris, and their daughter Myrtle, and Martha and John's neighbor Henry.
Martha became a swimmer at a young age after a new drowning incident in 1947. This incident brought out a reaction in her father and her taking swimming lessons helped calm his feelings around it. Martha found the sea to be a natural fit and she increased her distance and endurance simply for the love of the act itself. She had never thought of swimming competitively until an insistent reporter, looking for a story, put it in her head. But marriage was imminent for the young Martha at that point and she turned her back to the sea to take on the role of wife and mother. Ten years later, the call became too strong, and she broke out of the traditional role she had chosen to take on the challenge of swimming the English Channel. By the end of her life, she had swum across the channel ten times, and tackled health and aging issues. For Martha, the sea is an escape from her life, a calming influence, a place that she can stop thinking and just be.
This is a story of relationships, of intolerance, of anger and regret, of families and those who become family through the act they take on for us. A wonderful book

The Whole Town's Talking

Finished July 10
The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

This novel takes place in Elwood Springs, Missouri as many of her novels do, but this one covers more time and takes a different view.
The book starts in 1889 with Lordor Nordstrom, the found of Elwood Springs as he settles in the United States, and starts a community that includes many other Swedes, but also those immigrants from other backgrounds. It tells of his search for a wife, one that has the support and assistance of the other men and women of the small community. As Lordor looks at the community, he picks a place on a hill in town with a pleasant view in all directions, and donates it for a cemetery, calling it Still Meadows. It introduces us to his friends and neighbours: Birdie and Lars Swenson, Henry and Nancy Knott, Old Man Henderson, and many others.
The story takes us through the years, with each new generation moving in, and learning about them, but until 1911 when the first town person was interred in the cemetery this is just background. Because something special happens to those buried here, and the reader will enjoy the premise of this story as it takes us up to 2021.
This is a story about community, about what life is really about, and about lasting love. I really enjoyed it, especially the little twist at the end.

Heather, The Totality

Finished July 7
Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

This short novel is told in five parts, with two storylines that come together.
One storyline is Heather's, and it begins with the meeting of her parents Mark and Karen. Their date was a setup. Mark's dad was a high school football coach, perpetually disappointed in Mark for his lack of sports prowess. This made Mark determined to be a success in business and he applied himself to that goal diligently. Karen was in PR and also a hard worker, but a successful career wasn't a goal for her, and she was quite happy to take on the role of society wife and mother. Heather is the center of their lives.
The second storyline follows Robert (Bobby) Klasky, beginning with his childhood as the son of a single mom in Newark. His mom was a promiscuous drug-user, and he grew up having to fend for himself, and having a decided lack of social skills. He spent some time in jail after a social misunderstanding that led to an assault, but managed to stay away from the life of crime many of his peers led. He learned how to run a forklift and worked in construction.
The main action of the book as the story lines come together occurs as Heather is fourteen. She is a pretty girl, but also smart and well-liked. She is on the debate team and cares about people. The condo building that she and her parents live in is undergoing major renovation, but her father is too stubborn to move out during this phase as most of the other condo owners have. Karen is finding herself more at loose ends now that Heather is more independent, and is thinking of ending her marriage which she no longer finds fulfilling. Mark is also unhappy with the marriage, but not sure how to fix things. When he notices a young man on the construction crew eyeing Heather with interest, he is determined to deal with the situation himself.
And that changes a great deal.

Cottage Cheese Thighs

Finished July 6
Cottage Cheese Thighs by Jenn Sadai

I took my time reading this book to think about the issues that Jenn highlights here. This is a book about body image, and about the society pressures around women's body image. It is also a memoir of Jenn's only journey from yoyo dieting to meet these unrealistic body images, and her move aware from that dynamic to a more realistic, healthy, and happier life loving her body, taking care of it, and not worrying about external judgments. Other than for the purposes of the book to show her change in lifestyle is not one of denial, she also eschews the use of a scale in her life.
Jenn used an image of her own body for the book cover, and had to veer away from some of her new choices to show the "cottage cheese" look she wanted.
She talks to other women, friends and acquaintances about the need to stop letting media dictate what a woman's body should be and love our own bodies for the work they do for us. Yes, that means giving them healthy fuel to do that work, but it doesn't mean giving up all tasty foods in chasing an unrealistic ideal.
Her message is a good one, and I hope that others will read this book and think hard about the way they treat their own bodies.

The Twenty-Three

Finished July 5
The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay

This is the third and final novel in the trilogy that started with Broken Promise and continued with Far From True. The book starts in a very dramatic way, with detailed descriptions of several people as they start their day as normal only to find things going horribly wrong. A librarian is one of the first people to die. As the reader gradually begins to suspect that there is large-scale poisoning of some sort going on, we look at all the players that we found in the first two novels. David Harwood, living with his son Ethan and his parents is worried about a woman he's come to have feelings for, and her son.
Cal Weaver is worried about his sister Celeste and the unfriendly attitude of his brother-in-law, but he also has strong feelings for the little girl Lucy Brighton that he met recently. When Lucy telephones him for help, he knows that he must assist this special girl that he's made a strong connection with.
Marla Pickens, still recovering from the dramatic events that restored her son to her, worries about her father Gill, as well as her young son Matthew.
George Lydecker's parents worry about where he is, now that he's been missing for longer than they've known him to be before.
Detective Barry Duckworth, worries about his son Trevor, and about the community in general. He's also beginning to put together some of the pieces to the puzzling crimes in the town. While the boyfriend of a cold case murder victim is starting to pull himself together after years of guilt and sadness, his girlfriend's father has finally given up trying to help him. 
Duckworth finds that a new murder victim with the same look as two previous unsolved murders may hold the key to finally finding the killer. The larger community catastrophe of the mass poisoning also has him making the connections to finally figure out the meaning of the number 23 that has been appearing all over town. 
At the college, the new head of security finds a lot on her plate as well, and she works closely with Duckworth to make the crimes occurring on campus get the attention they needed all along. 
Lots going on here, grief and relief, but the ending leaves us with new questions.